Since 2004 the QS World University Rankings have been the embodiment of the 21st century fascination with quantifying, comparing, and ranking the academic excellence, research impact, and value for money of the world’s universities. With a taut methodology that encompasses six indicators of quality: academic reputation, employer reputation, student to faculty ratio, citations per faculty, proportion of international faculty and proportion of international students, US institutions have dominated the QS Rankings since their inception. Out of the 31 countries represented in the top 200, one country; the United States, earmarks 51 places. The same is true of the top 10, of which six are US universities and the remaining four from the UK.

The QS Rankings, delivered annually by a UK research consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), has found the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the best university in the world for the 2014/2015 academic year. In the same way that MIT was first established in response to the rapid industrialization of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, the contemporary dominance of that same institution relies on another global paradigm shift: towards technology and communications. As much as the QS Rankings reflect an increased globalization of university-sector education, they also chart the growth of a global industry geared towards interconnectivity and innovation, of which MIT has been found to be the main trendsetter. But aside from the usual world leading institutions, the QS World offers students an indispensible insight into the current educational climate in the United States. This year’s US top 10, with overall position in the world rankings shown in brackets, is:

1 (1) MIT

2 (4) Harvard University

3 (7) Stanford University

4 (8) California Institute of Technology

5 (9) Princeton University

6 (10) Yale University

7 (11) University of Chicago

8 (13) University of Pennsylvania  

9 (14) Colombia University

= (=) John Hopkins University

Close analysis of the data finds that the US universities who have demonstrated the fasted rise up the table since 2009 are MIT and Stanford, with the former topping the table for the third consecutive year. It seems MIT are set to dominate the QS Rankings next year too; their year on year citation per faculty rose 14% last year compared to their closest competitor Harvard at only 2%. But by normalizing the data, students and prospective faculty can see that it is in fact California Institute of Technology that leads the global tables for research citations. As a global sector shift towards a focus on scientific and technological innovation prevails in all fields of economic activity, the QS Rankings methodology is able to adapt accordingly. While both governments and businesses narrow their focus towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics research, it is the responsibility of the leading quantifiers of academic excellence to reflect this dramatic shift.

Outside of the top 10 those with a stake in US higher education will see the continued dominance of private institutions. Indeed, the University of Michigan is the highest placed public university in the national and global tables, coming in at 23rd overall, and out of the 14 US institutions in the top 30, only 2 were public universities. Despite the ubiquity of US universities in the top flight of the QS rankings, the motivation for their being there is increasing driven by a global response to our second industrial revolution; the internet age.